S1E3 – Show Notes

Titanic survivor, Eliza Hocking

Titanic survivor, Eliza Hocking. Photo courtesy of Encyclopedia-Titanica.

Eliza Hocking was a profoundly unlucky woman.

She was born into this world as Elizabeth Needs on April 12, 1858 in the beautiful Isles of Scilly off of Cornwall, England. Her father was a laborer and her mother stayed home to care for their seven children. Before her 13th birthday, the family moved to the English mainland, setting new roots in Penzance, Cornwall, on the southernmost tip of England. And while they might not have been wealthy, the Needs children at least had a simple upbringing in a thriving harbor town along the coast.

At the age of 22, Eliza married a man named William Rowe Hocking, a confectioner’s foreman from Penzance. The couple had seven children, only five of whom survived past infancy, and William worked day in and day out, baking and making candies to sell to the tourists who came down to the coast for holiday. In 1891, they reported on the census that they lived in a house at 39 Adelaide St in Penzance.

At some point in the early 1890s, for unknown reasons, William left England for South Africa. Whether he had been looking for a new home in a faraway land, or if he’d decided to leave his wife because of marital troubles, we may never know. He disappeared on the journey without leaving a trace of evidence as to his whereabouts.

But what we do know is, Eliza Hocking, a woman with no working skills, was left to care for five children on her own. She provided them with the best life she could afford, but she needed help.

So in 1899, Eliza married an engine driver named William Guy. She didn’t particularly love the man she now called her husband, but engine drivers were in demand. As steam engines gained popularity, drivers were sought out for work and they made enough money to support themselves and a family that had no other options.

That same year, the two of them had a daughter named Dorothy, and in spite of an unhappy and abusive marriage, Eliza stayed with her husband out of financial necessity.

He died in 1907, leaving Eliza to once again care for children she could not afford.

Early the following year, Dorothy died of epilepsy at the age of 8 years old. It was at this point that Elizabeth reverted to using her surname from her previous marriage.

Eliza Hocking's son, Richard George Hocking

Eliza Hocking’s son, Richard George Hocking. Photo courtesty of West Briton.

Her sons, knowing that they needed to help their mother and younger siblings, left home and emigrated to America, taking up residence in Akron, Ohio. Richard, her youngest boy, wrote home to his mother, telling her of all the things they were experiencing in Ohio, and how they’d quickly found work at a rubber factory, manufacturing the tires that were being put on the cars that were breaking the land speed world records that even the people of Penzance were reading about.

In a year’s time, he told her, he would have enough money saved to bring his entire family to America, where they too would be able to experience the richness and opportunities he had found.

So Eliza waited, and in 1912, she was able to hug her son for the first time in over a year–to hear his voice and to look into the eyes that reminded her so much of his father’s.

Richard surprised his mother with the news that he had booked second-class passage for his mother, his two sisters, and two of his nephews aboard the Titanic.

For about a week, Elizabeth felt that perhaps her luck was beginning to turn.

The YMCA choir, which Richard had been a part of, showed up to sing the family off as they boarded a train for Southampton. They had made it to Exeter by the time Eliza realized that, in all the excitement, she had lost her purse. Richard assured his hysterical mother that she wouldn’t need it. He had the tickets in his pocket and he had enough gold to get them to America. They would be alright, he told her.

They boarded the ship in Southampton on Wednesday, April 10.

Aboard the oceanliner, they made the acquaintance of another group of Cornish travelers who were also bound for Ohio. Thirteen English citizens, in total, were traveling aboard the ship in the hopes of building a new life in Akron.

For four days, they reveled in the majesty of the Titanic, traveling in what seemed like absolute luxury. For Eliza, this was a welcome break from the difficult and tiring life she had been living back home.

On the night of April 14, the Hocking family was asleep in their cabins when the Titanic struck the iceberg. Elizabeth had been woken by the impact and the noise, and she ran to her daughters’ room to wake them. “There is surely danger,” she told them, “Something has gone wrong.”

The family quickly dressed and made their way through the halls to the upper deck. A steward asked them to return to their cabin to fetch their lifejackets, which they did, and the family then made their way back up once again. When they arrived on deck, they were asked by an officer to climb up a rope ladder onto the A-deck promenade, a first-class area. This space, however, was enclosed, making it a difficult task to climb into the lifeboats. A stack of deck chairs was laid down by the window, and one by one, the Hocking family climbed onto them and through the window onto Lifeboat 4. Eliza begged her son to board the lifeboat with them, but he refused, saying “No, these men are good to stand back for you, and I must stay back and let their wives and mothers go.”

So Eliza crawled through the window into Lifeboat 4, joining her daughters and grandsons, and she cried as she realized the son who had promised to take her to America would never make it back there himself.

Richard George Hocking died at the age of 24. His body was never recovered or identified.

Eliza and her family sat huddled together in the lifeboat as it was lowered down into the water. The men rowed them along the length of the ship to look for any open gangway doors where they might be able to take on more passengers. Along the way, a few men jumped into the boat or were pulled up out of the water so that they might survive.

They rowed away from the ship to avoid the suction that was to come when it finally went underwater, and after the Titanic had disappeared below the surface, they rowed back toward the site to pick up any survivors they could, making Lifeboat 4 the only one to have immediately returned to the rescue.

Eliza sat paralyzed with shock over what she had just witnessed. The screams of the passengers now freezing to death in the water rang out through the night, and she sobbed as she thought of her son’s voice being lost in them. She watched hopefully as a half dozen men were plucked out from the freezing water, hoping that Richard would be one of them, but knowing full well that her luck meant he wouldn’t be.

The occupants of Lifeboat 4 were loaded onto the Carpathia the next morning at 8 AM. From there, they made their way to New York, where Eliza’s son Sidney had been waiting for them. He’d read about the sinking in the newspaper, and could only hope that his trip to New York hadn’t been in vain.

Sidney was reunited with his family on April 18 and was devastated to learn that his brother had been lost. They took some time to mourn and to recall what had happened. Eliza’s purse, you’ll remember, had been lost in England, and the rest of her possessions were now at the bottom of the North Atlantic. She and the rest of her family arrived in America penniless, with only the borrowed clothes on their backs.

The newspaper in Akron wrote of their rescue and how the family had been reunited and New York, and it was quick to point out that the passengers bound for the city had been traveling in a group of 13, the most unlucky of numbers.

 

Akron's newspaper article relating to the Titanic

Akron’s newspaper article relating to the Titanic. Photo courtesy of Akron-Summit County Public Library.

Eliza and her daughters reached Ohio safely. Not much is known about her time there. She lived at 195 Gale Street, and her daughter lived 2.5 miles away, just on the other side of downtown, across the street from City Hospital. For two years, Eliza, still poor, made the trip by streetcar to visit her daughter and grandsons.

On the evening of April 14, 1914, exactly two years after the sinking of the Titanic, she was traveling to her daughter’s house once again. They had planned to spend the evening together, all those who had survived the disaster. But around 6 o’clock that evening, Eliza Hocking’s bad luck returned one last time. After exiting the street car, she was struck by a passing vehicle and left in the street to die. Her body was found by two doctors and brought into the hospital, where they observed a large head wound and a number of cuts and bruises all over her body. She died on the morning on April 15, 1914, exactly two years from the day the Titanic had sank.

Eliza Hocking was a profoundly unlucky woman.

 

Article from Akron newspaper reporting the death of Eliza Hocking, reads "Woman saved from Titanic Killed here. Akron Woman meets death on second anniversary of catastrophe. Found on street with fatal wound."

Article from Akron newspaper reporting the death of Eliza Hocking, reads “Woman saved from Titanic Killed here. Akron Woman meets death on second anniversary of catastrophe. Found on street with fatal wound.”

Elizabeth Hocking's grave in Glendale Cemetery, Akron, Ohio. Reads, "Mother, Elizabeth Hocking, Titanic Survivor, 1860-1914."

Elizabeth Hocking’s grave in Glendale Cemetery, Akron, Ohio.

 

About Omitted:

Omitted is a history podcast, focusing its first season on the Titanic. The podcast is written, produced, and edited by Corey Constable.

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